Film career of Audie Murphy
Audie Murphy (20 June 1925 – 28 May 1971) was a highly decorated American soldier and Medal of Honor recipient who turned actor. He portrayed himself in the film To Hell and Back, the account of his World War II experiences. During the 1950s and 1960s he was cast primarily in westerns. While often the hero, he proved his ability to portray a cold-blooded hired gun in No Name on the Bullet. A notable exception to the westerns was The Quiet American in which he co-starred with Michael Redgrave. Murphy made over 40 feature films and often worked with directors more than once. Jesse Hibbs who directed To Hell and Back worked with the star on six films, only half of which were westerns. When promoting his 1949 book To Hell and Back he appeared on the radio version of This Is Your Life. To promote the 1955 film of the same name, he appeared on Ed Sullivan‘s Toast of the Town. He was a celebrity guest on television shows such as What’s My Line? and appeared in a handful of television dramas. Murphy’s only television series Whispering Smith had a brief run in 1961. For his cooperation in appearing in the United States Army‘s Broken Bridge episode of The Big Picture television series he was awarded the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal.
- 1Early career
- 2The Red Badge of Courage
- 3To Hell and Back
- 4Later films
- 8Public Service Announcements
- 9See also
- 12Further reading
- 13External links
Murphy became a national celebrity following his World War II military service when Life magazine proclaimed him America’s “most decorated soldier” in its 16 July 1945 issue cover story. That magazine cover brought him to the attention of veteran actor James Cagney who invited him to Hollywood. When Murphy arrived in California after his military discharge, Cagney cancelled the hotel reservations he’d made for Murphy and instead took him into his own home, “I got the shock of my life. Audie was very thin. His complexion was bluish-gray.” Commenting years later on his first impression, Cagney said, “[Murphy was] in such a nervous condition that I was afraid he might jump out of a window. I took him home and gave him my bed.” He spent three weeks as a guest of Cagney and then returned to Texas before finally agreeing to an offer from brothers James and William Cagney of $150 a week as a contract player with their production company. The Cagneys gave Murphy personal attention on acting techniques. He also took lessons at the Actors’ Lab on Sunset Boulevard. Murphy studied voice techniques, learned judo, and trained with choreographer John Boyle, Cagney’s dance coach for Yankee Doodle Dandy. A 1947 disagreement with William Cagney ended his association with the brothers without having been cast in a film production.
He moved into Terry Hunt’s Athletic Club and survived on his Army pension of $113 a month. In 1948 he became acquainted with writer David “Spec” McClure who got him a $500 bit part in Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven. He began dating actress Wanda Hendrix in 1946. Her agent got Murphy a bit part in the 1948 Alan Ladd film Beyond Glory directed by John Farrow. Murphy and Hendrix married in 1949 and divorced in 1951.
His 1949 film Bad Boy gave him his first leading role. Murphy became acquainted in Texas with Interstate Theatre executive James “Skipper” Cherry, who was best man at Murphy’s 1951 marriage to Pamela Archer and the namesake of the couple’s second son. Murphy’s association with Cherry brought him to the attention of Texas independent producer Paul Short. With financing from Texas theater owners and the children’s charitable organization Variety Clubs International, Short cast Murphy in Bad Boy to help promote the charity’s work with troubled children. Murphy performed well in the screen test, but Steve Broidy, president of the project’s production company Allied Artists did not want to cast someone in a major role with so little acting experience. Cherry, Short, and the theater owners refused to finance the film unless Murphy played the lead. The 1933 Thames Williamson novel The Woods Colt caught Murphy’s attention during this period of his career. He secured the rights to the story in the 1950s, and Marion Hargrove was hired to write the script. The film was never made.
Universal Studios signed Murphy to a seven-year studio contract at $2,500 a week. His first film for them in 1950 was as Billy the Kid in The Kid from Texas. He wrapped up that year making Sierra starring his wife Wanda Hendrix, and Kansas Raiders as outlaw Jesse James. He and director Budd Boetticher become acquainted through Terry Hunt’s Athletic Club where Murphy would request to be his boxing partner. Murphy appeared in the 1951 title role of Boetticher’s first westernThe Cimarron Kid.Audie Murphy tackles the role, and probably better fits the original Brand conception than his predecessors.
The only film Murphy made in 1952 was Duel At Silver Creek with director Don Siegel. Murphy would team with Siegel one more time in 1958 for The Gun Runners. He only worked one time with director Frederick de Cordova, who later became producer of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Murphy and de Cordova made Column South in 1953. George Marshall directed Murphy in the 1954 Destry, based on a character created by author Max Brand. Two previous versions, one in 1932 with Tom Mix and one in 1939 with Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, were both titled Destry Rides Again.
The only screenplay John Meredyth Lucas ever did for a Murphy film was the 1953 Tumbleweed, an adaptation of the Kenneth Perkins novel Three Were Renegades . Murphy played Jim Harvey, whose horse Tumbleweed displayed a talent for getting the hero out of any scrape. Director Nathan Juran oversaw Tumbleweed, as well as Gunsmoke and Drums Across the River.
As Murphy’s film career began to progress, so did his efforts to improve his skills. He continually practiced his fast draw with a gun. When Hugh O’Brian bet $500 that he could draw a gun faster than anyone in Hollywood, Murphy raised the ante to $2500 and wanted to use live ammunition; O’Brian did not accept. He took both private and classroom acting lessons from Estelle Harman, and honed his diction by reciting dialogue from William Shakespeare and William Saroyan.
The Red Badge of Courage
Murphy was lent to MGM at a salary of $25,000 to appear in the 1951 The Red Badge of Courage directed by John Huston and adapted from the Stephen Crane novel. At the urging of Spec McClure and celebrity columnist Hedda Hopper, over the misgivings of producer Gottfried Reinhardt and studio executives Louis B. Mayer and Dore Schary, director Huston cast Murphy in the lead of The Youth (Henry Fleming in the novel). The preview screening audiences were not enthusiastic, causing Schary to re-edit Huston’s work, eliminating several scenes and adding narration by James Whitmore. MGM trimmed advertising efforts on what they believed was an unprofitable film. What eventually hit the theaters was not a commercial success, and it was also not the film both Murphy and Huston believed they had made. Murphy unsuccessfully tried to buy the rights to the film in 1955 in an attempt to re-edit and re-release it. Hu